Lincoln’s Legacy

Though the American Civil War was a multi-year event, spanning four years of death and destruction, it seems to be most tied to the month of April. The cruel month was host to the first battle of the war, at Fort Sumter, as well as the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in 1865. However, the most famous April moment associated with the Civil War actually comes after that surrender–the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. In memory of the man who held the American nation together, today’s post will highlight two stellar books about the 16th President’s wartime decisions from UNC Press authors.

Russell McClintock’s Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, an award-winning look at Lincoln’s actions in crisis, examines the pressures the President faced when elected to office in 1860. Perhaps most important, McClintock presents the idea that few in the North could agree on the best response to Confederate secession. One could even argue that the Union was more splintered and unsure of its collective position than the Confederate states were at the time. When President Lincoln was sworn into office, it seems that he inherited a situation many leaders would have failed at controlling. Instead, he successfully brought together a formerly fractured Union, the first step in stemming secession and winning the war.

Likewise, Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered, a volume of critical examinations of the most famous speech in American history, adeptly rethinks the work of the man known as “The Great Emancipator.” Edited by William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger, this volume shows how much work came from many people prior to Lincoln’s speech, and how much work was left to do after he delivered it: Border State slaves were still not legally free. Many men and women in Confederate strongholds were still enslaved. The writers included in Lincoln’s Proclamation do great jobs of demythologizing the most mythologized writing of any American president, creating a better understood historical document in the process.

While John Wilkes Booth succeeded in assassinating Abraham Lincoln 145 years ago, these fine scholarly works prove that the man’s impressive and influential words and actions have continued to live on. Take advantage of our new “View Inside” feature for each book, and take today to dive into the mind of President Abraham Lincoln.